Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gestures at the presidential palace in New Delhi on August 15, 1998, after addressing the nation on India's 50th anniversary of independence. In his speech he said he was ready for talks with Pakistan ''on any issue, at any time, at any level and anywhere in the world.'' Photo: AFP
Late Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the presidential palace in New Delhi on August 15, 1998. He said in a speech that he was ready for talks with Pakistan 'on any issue, at any time, at any level and anywhere in the world.' Photo: AFP

The world certainly is going through testing times as the Covid-19 pandemic is taking the lives of hundreds and sinking economies all over the world. However, in Pakistan instead of focusing on fighting this disease, the government and the military establishment are busy spreading propaganda to keep the masses in the hallucination that everything is fine and the country’s only concerns are the independent journalists and politicians who are not ready to buy the rotten narratives of a security state.

Recently an organized campaign of treason accusations against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was launched. This time the invisible forces, instead of using puppets like current PM Imran Khan and his aides, have decided to use former diplomats to accuse Sharif of being a pro-India politician who maintained peaceful ties with New Delhi to enhance his business interests.

First, former Foreign Office spokesman Tasneem Aslam claimed that Sharif had stopped the FO from issuing statements against New Delhi and its spy Kulbushan Jadav, who is in Pakistani custody. Aslam also alleged that Sharif had business interests in India and that was why he refused to meet with the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, a party that is active in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

If Aslam’s allegations were not enough, the former Pakistani high commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, jumped in and similarly accused Sharif of being pro-India and a supporter of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to Basit, Sharif had business interests in India and never supported Pakistan’s official policy on Kashmir.

These fresh accusations have succeeded in diverting public attention from the inability of the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and its backers to control the growing Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, they intend to take revenge on Sharif for lodging a treason case against the coup-maker General Pervez Musharraf in late 2013 for abrogating the constitution.

Never in the history of the country had a military dictator been charged with treason, and because of that case, a special court last year sentenced Musharraf to death. Even though that decision was later overturned by another court, a precedent had been set that a military dictator could be tried in court for abrogating the constitution. 

Sharif after learning the lessons from relying on the establishment in the late 1980s and early ’90s distanced himself from it and gradually turned his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz from a far-right conservative party to the center-right, adopting progressive economic policies. His ties with Atal Bihari Vajpayee were so strong that Vajpayee, despite being the prime minister of India at that time and head of the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), not only came to Pakistan but also was of the view that Sharif had the ability to bring the two countries close to each other.

After Sharif was ousted through a coup by Musharraf in 1999, the dictator tried his best to convince Vajpayee on a settlement of the Kashmir issue, but Vajpayee, being a seasoned politician, paid no heed. Yet Musharraf was not termed a traitor for his friendly policies with India because he was not a civilian or an elected leader, while Sharif has continually been accused of treason for his peace-centric policy with New Delhi.

Sharif in his third tenure as prime minister not only managed to maintain good ties with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi but in general most of the power players in Delhi liked him for the reason that he never allowed the military establishment to control Pakistan’s foreign policy when it came to dealing with India. This is one of the reasons the Pakistani establishment never liked Sharif, and he has paid the price for not taking dictation and for not compromising on his policy of maintaining peaceful ties with neighboring countries, including India.

So both Tasneem Aslam and Abdul Basit are part of a well-organized propaganda campaign to weaken further the already fragile democracy in the country. The establishment knows that its doctrine of running the country through hybrid martial law has miserably collapsed and the economic turmoil, now getting even worse after the Covid-19 outbreak, will not let it manage the power chessboard according to its wishes. So these retired diplomats have been used to accuse Sharif of treason.

Treason allegations remain the most trusted weapon of the invisible forces as they successfully manipulate the minds of millions of brainwashed Pakistanis that their country is continually under threat from India, the West and the US. However, the establishment itself has been playing the role of facilitator for Washington to fulfill its geopolitical interests for the sake of US dollars.

If Sharif actually had any business in India, the establishment by now would have sent him to gallows on treason charges. Last year Javed Iqbal, the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, accused Sharif of money-laundering in India, but later he had to stay silent as there was no evidence of this, and even the State Bank of Pakistan denied the allegations. In fact, Iqbal later confessed that he had ordered the inquiry against Sharif after reading an Urdu column in a local newspaper, and Sharif also sent him a legal notice over these fake charges. 

In reality it was the current Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, who wished Modi success in last year’s general elections by saying that a Modi victory would create better chances for a peace dialogue. Khan himself tried to contact Modi on many occasions but remained unsuccessful, as the Indian PM never answered the phone. Likewise, even after the good initiative of the Kartarpur Corridor, the Pakistani establishment was not able to break the ice, and New Delhi never showed interest in resuming dialogue with Islamabad.

So Sharif is the scapegoat for both Khan and the establishment as the list of their failures grows with every passing day and accusations of treason remain the last resort for them to manipulate the masses. The likes of Tasneem Aslam and Basit are pawns in the game, and so are most of the TV channels and publications that work as propagandists for the invisible forces.

As far as these allegations are concerned, Sharif never had any business in India nor did he ever compromise on the principal position of Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, hailing from a Kashmiri family, Sharif understood the problem of Kashmir and knew that in modern times it was not possible to resolve disputes with a proxy war by sending jihadis to J&K.

It is also important to note that it is not Sharif who is responsible for the Kashmir fiasco, as the Modi government stripped J&K of its special status during the hybrid regime of Imran Khan backed by the establishment, so the real question that should be asked is why the establishment surrendered on Kashmir.

From the fall of East Pakistan to the Siachen conflict and from the Kargil misadventure to the surrender on J&K, it has always been the establishment that through its bad decisions landed Pakistan in hot water. There is no doubt that after New Delhi effectively annexed J&K war was not an option, and that in future, only dialogue will resolve the dispute. But it is also clear that the strategy of the invisible forces of trying to liberate J&K with the help of jihadis and by supporting certain groups in Kashmir weakened the case for Kashmiris and Pakistan in the global community.

So the passage of time has proved that Sharif was right in his approach and his policy of maintaining peaceful ties with New Delhi, and if it had not been discontinued by sending him out of office, perhaps Pakistan and India would not have locked horns over the J&K annexation.

Treason allegations are the last refuge of those who do not have the answers to modern civilization and lack the ability to win their case through logic and dialogue. Perhaps such accusations will keep the brainwashed segment of the society hallucinating, but they will not change the image of Pakistan in the global community, nor will they change the reality that elected leadership has always saved the day for the country.

At a time when Pakistan badly needs economic aid to deal with the impact of Covid-19 and when the masses need to be protected from this pandemic, the establishment is preoccupied with accusing Sharif of treason without realizing that this will not damage his vote bank and will only make Pakistan a laughing stock internationally, as paid-off journalists and pawns like the retired diplomats used against Sharif cannot fool everyone.

Perhaps the world will be wondering what kind of a country we are as even in the midst of a global pandemic the hybrid regime in Pakistan is busy inventing new ways to assassinate the characters of its political opponents, and instead of trying to fight the spread of this disease is keeping the masses hostage to ignorance by discrediting elected leaders.

Do not be surprised if you soon hear from a certain section of the press, from retired diplomats or from this hybrid regime that the Covid-19 pandemic in Pakistan and around the globe is being spread by Nawaz Sharif. After all, those who can launch such a malicious campaign at this critical time can stoop to any level. 

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.